Do you remember how much you liked recess when you were a kid in school? It was an opportunity to get out of the classroom, have a little fun with your friends and run around. As it turns out, that running around was really a lot more important than any of us thought at the time.
A growing consensus among health care professionals is that children are not engaging in enough activity and this lack of exercise is a major contributor to the number of overweight children today. This fact, coupled with eating too much high-calorie, high-fat food, has led to what many are calling an obesity epidemic in America.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control, Julie Gerberding, addressed the issue head-on when the CDC issued its report on obesity earlier this year. In a statement, Dr. Gerberding said, "One of the most significant concerns from a public health perspective is that we know a lot of children who are overweight grow up to be overweight or obese adults, and thus at greater risk for some major health problems such as heart disease and diabetes."
Many believe it is time to move from alarm to action. One leader who feels this way is Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Earlier this month, he announced the creation of a task force to study the problem in Florida and issue recommendations on what could be done. The topics to be discussed are likely to range from what kids should be served in the school lunchroom to steps families can take to be more active. A greater emphasis on physical education programs - including recess at the younger grades - will no doubt also be discussed. School officials acknowledge that recess and physical education programs have been cut at many schools across the country.
But the Governor's Task Force on the Obesity Epidemic, as it is officially known, is not undertaking this project because it might be nice for all of us to exercise more. Obesity is a very real health problem. The CDC estimates that more than 60 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, and 15 percent of children age 6-19 are also overweight. Dr. Zachariah P. Zachariah, a well-respected Broward County cardiologist will chair this important task force.
The future health cost associated with this epidemic will be considerable. Medical problems, including cost for health care, sick leave, life and disability could easily exceed $40 Billion dollars per year. If left unchecked, the projected cost of obesity related illnesses such as diabetes, heart related issues, cancers and arthritis to future generations would be staggering. In fact, last year health insurance premiums increased nearly 13%. Educators should be alarmed, as research indicates thirty percent of all school age children are considered grossly obese, three times more than 10 years ago.
"Being overweight presents some serious health concerns and by addressing this issue now, Florida will lead the way in changing lifestyles and saving lives," Gov. Bush said in a prepared statement when he announced the initiative. Being overweight contributes to a variety of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. State officials estimate that Florida alone spent $38.6 billion on these and related health problems in 2001.
It is of course simplistic to think that merely adding recess or physical education classes back to the school day or telling adults to exercise everyday will automatically solve the obesity problem in America. But these are steps in the right direction. And if we all take a lot more steps - and eat healthier, more balanced diets - we'll be well on our way to tackling this health care crisis. Last one out the door is a rotten egg.